This disease consumed UNSCOM in its final days, and went on to infect UNMOVIC as well. Even now, with the nails all but hammered in place on UNMOVIC’s coffin, the head of UNMOVIC, Demetrius Perricos, continues to point to a “residue of uncertainty” about Iraq’s disarmed status, saying there are people, material and intellectual know-how which still need to be monitored. One would expect the Bush administration and its defenders to leap on any suggestion by a senior U.N. official that Iraq was somehow not disarmed. Yet not even Bush and his coterie of blood-stained warmongers will breathe credibility into the fanciful mental meanderings of a captain whose ship has already sunk.
History has certified the work of the inspectors as being technically brilliant, and politically disastrous. Two things can be said of the U.N. inspection experience in Iraq. First, international inspections, properly led and equipped, can achieve meaningful disarmament results even under the most arduous of conditions. The second is that multilateral inspection regimes will always fail if the entirety of the body mandating the inspections fails to come to a singular agreement on the scale and scope of the disarmament mission. American (and to a lesser extent British) embrace of regime-change policies which were not contained in the U.N. mandate regarding Iraq meant the political death of the inspections. These are pure truths which need to be recognized and acted upon if any future multilateral international approach to disarmament and arms control is ever to reach fruition. So long as the United States continues to behave as if it has sole authority to deviate from the framework of international law set forth by the United Nations, there can be no hope for any meaningful progression in the field of threat reduction born of arms control and disarmament. Indeed, the opposite will occur—a world grown wary of American treachery will seek to acquire the means to deter, and perhaps even push back, what it sees as an American unilateral domination of the globe.
While it is difficult to predict the future, what can be said with absolute certainty is that the passing of UNMOVIC represents far more than a political stain on those who claim to embrace global nonproliferation but in reality smother it. The political aspects of the aggregate of failure which combined to sink UNMOVIC have been underscored above. The true tragedy of UNMOVIC’s demise rests not with bad policy, but rather with the loss of irreplaceable technical expertise. I do not refer to the library of inspection data derived from the 16-year disarmament saga in Iraq; this data is tainted by the political corruption of the inspection process. What I lament is the passing of potential, both realized and future, represented by the proactive work of some of the world’s greatest nonproliferation minds.
For the past seven years, UNMOVIC, led by the intrepid Russian weapons inspector Nikita Smidovich, has built an unprecedented program of training of international weapons inspectors. The qualification standards certified through this comprehensive training process has led to the creation of a cadre of international experts in the field of nonproliferation. Smidovich created a network of training opportunities in facilities in Canada, Argentina, Switzerland, Germany, Russia and Britain, to name a few. The hundreds of inspectors who have completed this training stood ready to go anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice to investigate whether a given manufacturing process was legitimately utilized or instead covertly diverted for illegitimate use. This inspection capability far exceeded anything the world would ever need in Iraq, and had great potential for pre-emptive application in any number of proliferation trouble spots, from Iran to North Korea and beyond. For an annual cost of a few million dollars, the inspection potential created by Smidovich and others, operating under the umbrella of UNMOVIC, had the potential to prevent conflicts costing untold billions.
This capability is now forever lost with the demise of UNMOVIC, proof positive that the real problems confronting the world’s collective peace and security continue to be undermined by an American administration willing to exact any price in order to win cheap political points. Americans rightly measure the cost of the Iraq war in terms of dead and wounded American service members. Some even spare a thought for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties. But scant few will reflect on the potential harm done to future generations of Americans, and others around the world, as we bid a silent farewell to meaningful arms control.
Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of numerous books. His latest is “Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement” (Nation Books, April 2007).